Arizona Man Digs Up Buried History in His Own Backyard
John Sims bought a seemingly ordinary home in Tucson, Arizona. Little did he know the historic secret that laid beneath the ground of his new backyard. Buying this house led him on an incredible adventure that he was not prepared for or expecting.
When the previous owner mentioned to John that something might be hidden below the surface of the yard, he had no choice but to explore. But even in his wildest imagination, he could not have dreamed up what he discovered when he started digging around.
A Friend's Warning
The previous owner of the house was John’s friend. He didn’t have any concerns about the house, as he assumed if there was anything seriously wrong with the house his friend would have been straight with him before he purchased it.
After the sale was completed, John’s friend told him not about a defect of the house but of a mystery. He explained that there were strange tales about the house which told of something hidden beneath the backyard decades ago.
In the Back of His Mind
John’s friend told him of an intriguing, yet potentially dangerous tale about his newly acquired home. However, his friend had decided against trying to find out if it was true. This meant that an adventure awaited John if he chose to pursue it.
As John moved into the house, the prospect of discovering its secret buzzed in the back of his mind. With the realization he couldn’t rest until he figured out what was buried underneath his new home, he set off to accomplish this task.
It Was His for the Taking
Infatuated with solving the mystery of his new home, John knew he was going to go to any lengths. Wanting to get to work immediately, he asked his friend for a shovel. John thought he asked this in jest at first, but realized he was itching to start exploring.
However, he quickly figured out that a single shovel wasn’t going to cut it. As John didn’t even know what he was digging for, he decided that his best approach was to take things one step at a time.
But Where to Begin?
John was plagued with considering what could be hidden in his backyard. There were infinite possibilities. He understood there was the possibility of the rumors being false and he could be wasting his time. But the idea of what he could discover was enough to keep pursuing.
John had to figure out how to start. He decided just to start digging with his shovel and go from there. Any holes could be fixed later and if the yard looked a bit disheveled, so be it.
In the Heat of the Moment
With the prospect of unveiling the mystery, John wasn’t going to let anything stop him. With summer in Tucson, Arizona being like standing on the sun, working outside can be extremely challenging. Your energy can be drained quickly from the heat.
Doing manual labor in these kinds of conditions would not entice many people. However, this did not deter John. Imagining discovering something that had been potentially lost for ages, he kept digging. His optimism greatly helped him continue the difficult task.
Doubt Creeps In
With no detailed plan or idea of what to expect, John dug several different holes throughout his yard. After no success in finding anything besides dirt, John started to become dispirited, and anxiety entered his mind.
The possibility that he could have accidentally ruined whatever he was trying to find came to his mind. With the sun beating down on his neck and doubt clouding his mind, he decided to call it a day. He was discouraged but not ready to completely abandon his quest.
Hit the Books
Back inside and letting himself cool off, his mind began to work properly again. He thought of a plan that might aid him in deciphering the secret of his new house.
He obtained copies of Tucson’s city records and searched through as much information as he could find. He then came upon records concerning his new home. He finally had concrete information to go off rather than rumors. He knew this would aid him in his search throughout the grounds.
Wait, I Have a Pool?
The information from the records included facts about his home that he was already aware of. However, a sketch drawn of the property revealed something that greatly intrigued John.
The records revealed that in 1961 a company named Whitaker Pools requested to operate on the land where John now resides. However, John did not see a pool anywhere around his home. What did this mean? Why would a pool company work on his property but not install anything he could visibly see? These questions added to the mystery.
Getting Down to Business
With these new facts and questions coming to light, John realized he had to revise his initial plan. Randomly digging holes in his yard wasn’t going to cut it; he needed consultation to help with his search.
John recruited a team of professionals who came prepared with all the necessary equipment, such as metal detectors. He hoped, with the help of people who were more knowledgeable than him about digging, he would finally be able to crack the mystery that had been consuming him.
Do We Detect a Miracle?
With the crew using their detectors, they started their way across the ground. Nervous anticipation grew in John, knowing that this was likely his final shot at solving the mystery. However, as the detectors swept across further, still nothing had been discovered.
Fear crept in that the search was going to fail, and all his efforts would have been for nothing. Then the sound of a detector beeping caught his ear, and he was ecstatic. He was one step closer.
That Hits the Spot
John could hardly believe his ears. The crew had detected two different locations in the yard with their machines. They put down markers to make sure they remembered the spots their detectors had found, and everyone went to take a rest. John then went to brainstorm his next moves.
His search had finally come to unearth evidence that there was at least something to the tales about his backyard. He was finally beginning to make progress in this intrepid quest.
Back to the Basics
With the professionals having completed their job for the moment, John got out his shovel again and began to dig. He was thankful he now had only two more spots that would ensure he would come across something.
The first hole did not result in any discoveries, and he moved on to the second. He quickly found he could no longer dig any further, as he had scraped something metal. John was closer to getting answers to the questions burning inside him.
A Treasure or Fool's Gold?
After only a couple feet of digging, a metal object had been discovered. John was excited about this find but realized that there was a possibility it could be something unrelated to the mystery, such as a septic tank.
If this turned out to be the case, John would have to take extra precautions while he continued digging. It could be dangerous, and repairs would be very costly if he broke the tank. He certainly wanted to avoid a large and unnecessary expense on his new home.
The Search That Bore Fruit
John cautiously resumed his work. After more digging, he was relieved to find out the metal object was not a septic tank. His fear of coming up short again in his search subsided for the moment. He didn’t throw caution to the wind but was less concerned about causing any damage.
He then tried to uncover the object by clearing away the remaining debris. The mystery was starting to become clearer, and this enticed him to continue his work. His excitement rose as the object became visible.
Entrance to Where?
Even with the knowledge the metal object was for sure not a septic tank, more questions came up. John could see the entirety of it but did not know for sure what it was. The only thing he seemed to be sure of was what the object wasn’t.
He realized it was an entryway, but to where? Did this mean there was an underground chamber of sorts? The idea of a secret bunker was intriguing, but what was its purpose? The most important question, though, was how to open it?
Finding an Opening
Still amazed that he had discovered an entrance buried underneath his yard, John finally felt like things were coming together. He was going to figure out the mystery he had been obsessing about since he moved in.
As he finished clearing the entrance of the remaining dirt upon it, he discovered a passageway covered with a lid. John managed to lift it off, but his instincts from working at the fire department were to proceed with caution before he entered the hatch.
Worth the Wait
While John was anxious to explore further and unlock more secrets about what was underneath his backyard, he knew his safety took priority. His firefighting days reminded him that enclosed spaces can be perilous, especially if you have never been inside one before.
There is the possibility of the air being filled with poison or other harmful substances that can seriously harm someone. As an extra precaution, John was going to ask others to be near and above ground, as the area could collapse or he could get stuck.
Staring into the Darkness
John patiently waited to get everything he needed. Wanting to at least have a quick look, John got his first peek underneath. This was something he had been waiting for, and the excitement was bubbling up inside him. What lies for him under this strange entrance?
John peered downwards into the hatch and strained his eyes to figure out what he was looking at. He wasn’t sure what he was seeing. He had to focus and take in everything around him. What exactly was he seeing?
Spiraling to the Secret
John started to make out what he was looking at. It appeared to be metal blades arranged in a spiral. This didn’t make much sense; why were the blades structured like that, and what were they for?
His eyes were finally able to make out what they were seeing. What seemed to be unintentional now had a clear purpose. The blades were a winding spiral staircase which led further down into the dark ground. It started to become clear that this enclosure was built purposely.
Rather Safe Than Sorry
If John had acted on his impulses, he would have started down the stairs to see what purpose the enclosure served. He was just inches away from finally solving the mystery. Why should he wait any longer?
However, the rational side of John won over his impulses. It would be incredibly dangerous to walk down a structure where he had no idea of its condition. A compromised step could lead him tumbling down the stairs to his death. Begrudgingly, he knew he had to be patient again.
John knew that the risks of walking down the staircase were too great. It was built 50+ years ago, and the state of the structure was unknown. His burning curiosity and growing impatience were no reason to risk his safety.
He also finalized his team to monitor him once he was able to go down the spiral staircase. It consisted of his friends, whom he knew he could rely on. His plan to guarantee his safety was set in motion.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
While the temptation to skip the precautions and go explore the enclosure lingered, he stuck to his plan. He started brainstorming what he would need to ensure he could safely go down the staircase.
With the aid of his team, they developed a plan to navigate the enclosure without risk. Little did John know that his patience would result in an incredible discovery. He and his team also recorded their progress, making their discoveries accessible to others as they continued.
In Need of Repair
As John did not know what sort of condition the enclosure was in, he decided it would be best to reinforce it. That way he wouldn’t have to worry about something collapsing on him. He also knew that he might have to make repairs.
Upon closer examination, John and his team found out the staircase was in terrible shape. The metal was so rusted that it was clear the steps were unsafe to stand on. While they were having some hiccups, they were getting closer and closer to its secret.
Laying the Foundation
The prospect of discovering what lies beneath them kept them preoccupied as they worked. As the Tucson sun beat unforgivingly on them, they realized there was an obvious solution to this problem. Simply propping up a tent kept them covered from the sun’s harsh rays.
After adding concrete to secure the entry and re-barring the spiral staircase, they were confident about eliminating risks concerning the enclosure. The idea of a collapse was no longer something they needed to worry about.
Let There Be Light
Luckily, John liked to plan ahead. He pondered what else he might need as he made his way into the dark enclosure. He realized he would need light to help him see where he was going. Feeling his way blindly through a dark, unfamiliar place would not be preferable.
John and his team installed an electrical line to light up the entirety of the enclosure. It would also allow them to make any repairs on the enclosure once they reach solid ground.
Clearing the Air
In considering what other precautions John and his team had to take, they decided to tackle the risk of toxic air. As they were dealing with an underground enclosure that was built decades ago, they knew this could be a problem.
The team set up a pipe at the opening of the enclosure. This would allow clean air into the enclosure, negating anything toxic that could be lurking nearby. They were nearing the time when John could finally take his first steps down the staircase.
However, the first steps were not possible – quite literally – as the steps of the spiral staircase were not stable yet. As they could not safely put any weight on them, they were stuck with an issue. How would they be able to repair the steps without being able to get close to them?
The answer to John was obvious. Using a long ladder, he safely fastened it to the entrance to bypass the stairs. Was he finally going to descend into the enclosure?
Down the Rabbit Hole
Yes, John was going to get to discover the secret he had been searching for. The moment he long imagined the first time he heard of something mysterious hidden in his backyard was coming to reality.
John realized he was likely the only human in decades to be in this enclosure. The past had hidden it from the world, only for him to rediscover it. He began his descent, and his mind started to wonder what he was about to see. Anticipation surged throughout his body.
Landing on Solid Ground
Down the ladder John went. He could see the ground close below him. His foot went from the last rung on the ladder to solid ground. He was finally in the thick of the mystery.
He gazed around in awe at the large room he stood in. All of this had been underneath the homes of many of the previous owners, who never knew what was hidden beneath them. As John looked around, he saw a series of tunnels. There was even more for him to explore.
A Tale Not so Tall
John was taken aback to the records he had combed through regarding his property. He remembered that the enclosure he was standing in now had to have been built by the pool company mentioned.
However, he was not standing in anything close to a pool. John remembered that the year it was built was 1961. He thought that maybe the year could be a clue as to why this had been built in the first place. Suddenly, he realized the connection.
The Russians are Coming
The realization hit John because of the room he was standing in. It was large and lacked any kind of furniture or equipment. This was because the enclosure was not intended for a social gathering, but for protection. He was inside a bunker likely made as an escape from nuclear war.
Fear had gripped the world during the Cold War, as tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union reached a boiling point. It was not uncommon for people to build bomb shelters.
Observing the structure of the room around him, he noticed it was still in fairly good shape considering how old it was. One thing he noticed was that the ceiling was made of fiberglass. This was not a positive discovery.
Fiberglass is extremely unsafe, as it is toxic to inhale and can irritate the skin. Not to mention the glass was falling apart. John knew this was something that could easily be repaired. Nothing could stop him now that he had connected the dots.
At Your Service
The bunker underneath John’s property wasn’t the only one built by the pool company. There was a high demand for them in the 1960s, causing companies to add these shelters to their services. This happened all over the United States.
Builders accustomed to designing pools realized that building a bunker wasn’t all that different. Both were underground and typically built in a yard. All they had to do was close the top. It is known that a company named Catalina Pools installed 500 bunkers by 1961.
John was ecstatic he had done the unthinkable and navigated his way down the bunker, all based on rumors. He then asked himself what he was going to do with the bunker now that he had found it? He received various suggestions from his friends.
Some people who found underground bunkers transformed them into living quarters, or dedicated spaces for art and music. However, John was going to do something else. He wanted it to be unique, as it was a treasure he had sought after for so long.
Preserving a Relic
John decided to share his adventure online, and quickly learned he wasn’t alone. He posted his story on Reddit, which soon became popular. He started talking to others who also had an underground shelter.
John started to become more interested in these bunkers, as well as the Cold War. He decided he was going to convert his bunker into a museum. He understood that this meant more work to complete this task. He had to decide what his next steps were, and how to accomplish them.
To the Internet
John’s first step was to raise money for the supplies needed to transform his bunker into a museum. He set up a GoFundMe account in which he explained what he wanted to do.
John wanted to start repairing the entry to the shelter, as this had to be done prior to making any changes to the ground floor of the bunker. He stated that the entrance needed a large amount of concrete. He also wanted to completely replace the spiral staircase. The cost of this was around $2,000.
The Project Will Proceed
Even though John’s GoFundMe post became popular, he received less than half of his desired goal. However, this was not a roadblock to his progress. He was so dedicated to this project that he put it above his actual job to get it done. He then finished the entry and stairs.
John continued to share his progress online. He posted updates about how the stairs could be used in lieu of the ladder. A photo he posted of the staircase showed it painted a bright blue.
Plans for the Future
John continued to post about his plans now that the entrance and staircase were completed. He said that he wanted to paint the interior, still wanting to add a museum as well as a personal space.
John stated that he was heavily invested in his research into the Cold War. The fear must have been substantial if people went out of their way to build these shelters. It appeared that the bunker and the history of the war had impacted John.
Keeping History Alive
John started to collect items for the part of the bunker dedicated to the museum. He posted about finding many relevant collectibles from that era. It was incredible the vast amount of history he had found.
Many of these items were vintage and extremely valuable, so it is surprising to see that they were all in good condition. John’s hope was that the museum would be a reminder of the lengths war had driven people to survive.
Progress Takes Time
After about 5 years of minimal progress, John finally got started on the build around the bomb shelter. He shared photos of the progress on his Reddit thread in May of 2021 to the excitement of all those who have followed his story from the discovery.
After rebuilding the rickety stairwell, he poured concrete around the shelter, but progress was stalled for years before he started to build the structure around it. He was not deterred from his project!
Building the Museum
John was inspired by the small structure pictured above. This is the Lemon Rock Outlook in the Catalina Mountains. The Lemon Rock Outlook overlooks the University of Arizona Steward Observatory and Tucson Valley.
The outlook is often visited by tourists and hikers who want to see the stunning views of the Tucson valley and the Rincon Mountains. This small 15 ft by 15 ft structure was the inspiration for John’s museum.
Designing the Museum
With the concrete poured and the inspiration drawn, John began designing the structure for his Cold War bomb shelter museum. He drew up some plans on his computer.
He used Shapr3D to draw his ideas and worked on nailing down the dimensions and shapes. The roof panels, door, and body of building were all imagined on John’s iPad before they were built in his backyard.
And So it Begins
He framed the walls and ran into a few issues that required him to dispose of some details but he was able to get the frame up. No project is without it’s trials and tribulations. But John was excited to make some progress on his passion project.
He found some metal window frames at a reclamation sale and used those for his shelter. Many of the materials he used were recycled!
We Have Doors and Windows
With windows and doors put into the frame, the structure really starts to come together! The door was recycled as well as the windows and he found some unique doorknobs.
He also had the walls and siding basically completed and got started on the roof, which was basically its own project in itself.
It Starts to Come Together
John had to decide on the type of roof that would best fit the structure. He shared with his Reddit following that this was something of a tedious process because he had to work through multiple ideas before he came to the one that worked best.
A fresh coat of paint on the windows and doors really made the structure come together. He also tested out a brick pathway from the front door at this point but ended up deciding against it.
A Beautiful Museum
Here we have the most recent version of John Sim’s incredible bomb shelter museum. The structure works to protect the shelter but John spent a lot of time and effort to make it a beautiful little home.
He even added a string of lights around the roof so it would sparkle at night. We have to assume John is extremely proud of his work on this passion project. We admire the effort he put in and the research he did to preserve such an incredible piece of history.
A California Coincidence
Surprisingly, John discovering a bunker buried in his Arizona backyard isn’t the only instance of normal people uncovering hidden secrets within their homes after decades. We continue our story with a California couple with a similar experience.
Chirs and Colleen Otcasek bought a home in Woodland Hills in 2013. They noticed a hole in their backyard but thought nothing of it. One day however, their curiosity got the better of them, and they decided to do some investigating.
15 Feet Beneath the Ground
As they examined their new backyard closer, they discovered an old, rusted staircase descending into the ground. Where did this staircase lead you might ask?
Well, it led to a perfectly preserved nuclear fallout shelter from 1961. Similar to John’s story, Chris and Colleen were incredibly surprised to find a piece of history hidden beneath their own property.
It Was Fully Stocked
As Chris and Colleen looked around the subterranean shelter, it was incredible to see how well-preserved the space had been. It was as if they found a time capsule that allowed them a brief look into the tense era from sixty years ago.
This blast from the past was complete with vintage items and a fully stocked pantry. These supplies were all left in the shelter in case nuclear disaster led the family from the 1960s to live or hide within the shelter for a period of time.
The Man Behind The Bunker
In 1961, Alvin Kaufman built this fallout shelter 15 feet below his home in order to protect his family in the case of an emergency. Debra Kaufman, Alvin’s daughter, spoke to CBS Los Angeles and mentioned that the shelter was equipped to sustain a family with four members for up to a few weeks.
To sustain a family for that long, the shelter had designated sleeping areas, a hand-crank air filter, and a water tank. At the time, Kaufman even offered to build each of his neighbors their own fallout shelters, but they declined.
Household Products Everywhere
The Kaufaman family made sure to properly stock up in case of an emergency. The brands and items Chris and Colleen found inside the bunker are a fun reminder of the past. Such items included aluminum foil, Dixie Cups, Kleenex towels, and general cooking supplies such as protein mix.
They also found containers full of medication and sleeping pills. An emergency kit also included important supplies such as ointment, gauze, and foot powder. The family was truly prepared for it all.
For Their Entertainment
In terms of entertainment, the thought of being crammed in a fallout shelter with three other people for a few weeks sounds rather overwhelming. Thus, the family was sure to bring a few forms of entertainment into the bunker to pass the time should they need to.
These items found from the 1960s included a few board games and dozens of copies of Analog Science Fiction & Fact magazine. With a perfectly preserved shelter, these items all represent a unique moment in US history. As for the Otcasek family currently residing in this home, they have no intention of getting rid of the bunker. Chris Otcasek even said, “I’ll leave it for the next people. It should last forever.”
Let’s Head Over To Pennsylvania!
Now our story takes us to Pennsylvania where yet another backyard mystery is being discovered. However, this one comes with a different twist. This unique tale begins with James Carlington tending to his garden.
While James began his typical garden pruning routine, he heard a mysterious hissing sound coming from his yard. While investigating where the strange noise was coming from, James’s wife, Sarah spotted a large green lump in the corner of their backyard.
There was a Bubble in Their Yard!
As James and Sarah prodded at the large, lumpy grass, it was clear that the lawn bubble was filled with something. When they poked it, it wobbled back and forth like a waterbed. The couple tried to flatten the bubble out themselves, but the mass would not burst.
James tried jumping on it and poking it with sticks and umbrellas, to no avail. It was clear that some sort of liquid was trapped beneath their grass, but they were having trouble releasing the built up pressure.
The Floodgates Finally Open!
With the help of a neighbor, the couple was able to break through the outer layer of the mysterious lump using some gardening tools. This began releasing an excess amount of water. It was as if a pipe had just burst, but where was all this water coming from?
It took quite a while for all the water to release from the lawn bubble. James and Sarah continued to jump and press on the lumped grass in order to help release the built up water tension.
Black Plastic in the Yard
While the couple was relieved the lawn blister had finally burst, they were still incredibly curious as to how and why such a thing happened. As they continued to investigate their backyard, James noticed a black piece of plastic sticking up from his grass.
They began to dig around the black plastic to learn more. This wasn’t just an old, discarded plastic garbage bag, it was something much thicker and much bigger.
A Mysterious Black Tarp
As the couple dug more of the plastic out of the ground, it became clear that they were dealing with a large, buried black tarp. When James began his week with some light gardening, he never would have imagined he would be digging up nearly his entire yard by the end of the week.
James went back to where the lawn blister first began and decided to cut the tarp in that spot. Right where he cut, he felt a solid object in the ground. He dug around some more to uncover wooden planks hidden under the grass. The strange mystery that began with a hissing, bubbling lawn was about to take quite the turn.
A Hidden Latch
While uncovering why wooden planks lay hidden beneath his grass, James discovered a handle and latch along the wood. The excess moisture and the passage of time had eroded and certainly done a number on the wood and iron latch, but James definitely felt he was getting closer to a remarkable discovery.
James and Sarah were curious what they might find. Before buying their new home, they even looked over the property’s blueprints, but nothing indicated there would be something hidden in their own backyard.
Uncovering A Stone Staircase
After breaking the latch and doing some more digging, James found an old spiral staircase covered in dirt. It was falling apart a bit, but it was definitely something special. Who knew when this secret underground room was created and when the last person took these steps downstairs.
James and Sarah were certainly quite nervous as they had no idea what to expect or if it would be safe to venture inside. James began his descent and was careful with every step. The deeper he went, the darker it became. They grabbed their flashlights and continued their adventure.
The Underground Vault
Luckily, the tight staircase opened up to a rather large underground vault that they could comfortably walk around in. It wasn’t just any underground room. While our previous stories had to do with families discovering hidden underground fallout shelters, James and Sarah found something different. It was a secret wine cellar underneath their backyard!
The smell underground was an unpleasant one, smelling of sour milk and fermented fruit, but this discovery was an exhilarating historic find. There were dusty wine bottles all over that were almost a century old. It’s likely this hidden cellar existed in the time of prohibition.
The Wine Was Kept A Secret
After consulting the local library and consulting with professionals, the Pennsylvanian couple learned that the wine cellar was indeed kept a secret primarily because the owners did not get the proper permits to build a cellar of this kind.
When the people who created the secret wine cellar left their property, they simply covered up it’s entryway with a large tarp and grass seeds in an attempt to conceal their illegal project. James and Sarah experienced that strange lawn blister because there was no true ground there to soak up the rain, which caused water to pool between the grass and the tarp layers. Another wild backyard discovery left these ordinary homeowners shocked.
It’s truly incredible to hear these stories and wonder just what other magnificent finds may be hidden in one’s backyard! Perhaps it’s time to start digging.